Can Eye Color Predict Pain Tolerance?

By: Rick Pietzak

The color of a woman’s eyes may be linked to how well she can handle pain and respond to painkillers.

In a study presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Pain Society, Inna Belfer, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Pittsburgh, found that healthy, pregnant women with light-colored eyes had a higher tolerance for pain than those with brown or hazel eyes.

465184465Dr. Belfer and her team evaluated pain before and after giving birth, along with mood, sleep, and coping behavior, for 58 women at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC; 24 had brown or hazel eyes and 34 green or blue.

The women with dark-colored eyes had significantly increased sleep disturbance and higher levels of pain, even after receiving epidural analgesia. They also showed increased anxiety and higher rates of depression.

“This sample focused on healthy women during and after labor. In the next part of this project, we will look at the link between eye color and pain associated with chronic conditions,” said Dr. Belfer.  She acknowledges that the study involved a small sample but believes that further investigation is warranted.

“There have been previous studies about the relationship of gender, age and hair color to pain, but this is the first research on eye color.  This work may improve our knowledge of genetic contributions to pain and analgesia,” she said.